School board member urges, ‘Make your home a judgment-free zone’

Vernon. Discussion continued about whether parents have a right to know their children’s LGBTQ status, after a teacher cited his religious faith to justify exposing a transgender student.

| 01 Jul 2021 | 02:51

The Vernon school community on June 24 continued to debate comments made by a Glen Meadow Middle School teacher about a state statute protecting the privacy of transgender students, which has prompted calls for his termination or resignation.

Robert Dejulia discussed a student’s transgender status in public at the June 3 school board meeting. He said he had received an email from a school authority that one of his students had changed their name and preferred pronoun, and that the student’s parents didn’t know about the change. Ultimately, the student did come out to their parents.

Dejulia said he would not abide by the statue if he encountered the situation again, citing the teachings of his church and faith.

Former school board member Natalie Buccieri said Dejulia was only saying he would not lie to parents. She asked the school board why no one supported him.

“This board was saying he does not support all students,” Buccieri said. “He was saying he could not lie. Parents trust the school to educate the children and keep them safe.”

Other parents argued against the statute, saying they have the right to know if their child makes that “decision.” One accused the board of capitulating to an “agenda.”

“I feel, as a parent, I should be aware of that,” Dawn Demathis said.

Vicky Smith, an English teacher at Vernon Township High School and president of the Vernon Township Education Association, said she was speaking as a private citizen. She said no one was asking Dejulia to lie, and that the statute protects children from abusive parents.

“I have seen parents who have kicked children out of their homes for minor infractions,” Smith said. “Parents can be abusive. I’m not putting myself up as the ideal parent, but the one thing I did tell my children — and I hope other parents do this — tell them, ‘I love you unconditionally, and you can come to me with anything,’ and keep that conversation open. If parents kept that conversation open, we wouldn’t be in this situation.”

Martin Pirringer said the district must follow the law. People who oppose it should advocate before the state legislators who made the law.

“If you need to worry they won’t come to you with something serious like that, in due time, you better examine the way you raised them,” he said.

School board member Jennifer Pellet said the policy protects students who feel in danger at home.

School board member Adina Leuthner said LGBTQ children ponder suicide three times more than others, and that LGBTQ students who are rejected at home are 8.4 percent more likely to attempt suicide.

“That doesn’t speak to the parents here tonight who care about their children,” Leuthner said. “But there are some parents who reject their children when they identify with the LGBTQ community, and those are the children we are trying to protect.”

School board member Martin O’Donnell said of his nine children, three are members of the LGBTQ community. He said he was open with his children and, in turn, they were open with him.

“Over the years it has become easier for these children to come out and tell their parents,” O’Donnell said. “I was present for an irate parent when a child came out to them. There are two important sides to this. Make your home a judgment-free zone.”

Editor’s note: Here below is the state statute protecting the privacy of LGBTQ students:
A school district shall accept a student’s asserted gender identity; parental consent is not required.
Further, a student need not meet any threshold diagnosis or treatment requirements to have his or her gender identity recognized and respected by the district, school or school personnel. Nor is a legal or court-ordered name change required. There is no affirmative duty for any school district personnel to notify a student’s parent or guardian of the student’s gender identity or expression.
There may be instances where a parent or guardian of a minor student disagrees with the student regarding the name and pronoun to be used at school and in the student’s education records. A parent or guardian may object to the minor student’s name change request. School districts should consult their board attorney regarding the minor student’s civil rights and protections under the NJLAD.
Staff should continue to refer to the student in accordance with the student’s chosen name and pronoun at school and may consider providing resource information regarding family counseling and support services outside of the school district.
School districts should be mindful of disputes between minor students and parent/guardians concerning the student’s gender identity or expression. Many support resources are available through advocacy groups and resources from the New Jersey Department of Children and Families and New Jersey Department of Education’s “Child Abuse, Neglect, and Missing Children” webpage.
One of the most important factors in ensuring a safe and supportive environment for transgender students is communication between the school/district and student. School district personnel should have an open, but confidential discussion with the student to ascertain the student’s preference on matters such as chosen name, chosen pronoun to use, and parental communications.
• School districts shall ensure that a transgender student is addressed at school by the name and pronoun chosen by the student, regardless of whether a legal name change or change in official school records has occurred.
• School districts shall issue school documentation for a transgender student, such as student identification cards, in the name chosen by the student.
• A transgender student shall be allowed to dress in accordance with the student’s gender identity.
School districts should discuss with the student, and any other individuals at the student’s request, the risks associated with the student’s transgender status being inadvertently disclosed. For example, school districts should inform the student that the transgender status may be revealed due to other students’ discussions at home. The school district should work with the transgender student to ensure awareness of activities and events that may inadvertently disclose the transgender student’s status.
Source: New Jersey Department of Education:
“There are some parents who reject their children when they identify with the LGBTQ community, and those are the children we are trying to protect.” Adina Leuthner